MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — As is the case for many sub-Saharan African nations, Kenya has felt the effects of rampant poverty for generations. There have recently been many optimistic signs of relief as the current poverty rate is much lower than it was 15 years ago. However, poverty in Kenya still remains far too prevalent as millions of citizens do not have access to basic living essentials while millions more barely make enough to scrape by. Thankfully, there are several potential short-term aid to long-term solutions to Kenya’s poverty problem.
The Poverty Situation
Although Kenya still has a low standard of living in the global picture with a Human Development Index of .601, there has been significant progress made in the past 15 years. Kenya’s poverty rate declined from 46.8% in 2006 to 36.1% in 2016 due to annual GDP growth rates of 5.3% higher than other sub-Saharan African countries. These high growth rates reflect an increase in non-agricultural income aided by innovations in mobile banking, telecommunications and financial technology services.
However, the boost in national income has not benefited all citizens equally. The majority of Kenya’s economic prosperity goes to the wealthy few rather than the entire population. Furthermore, urban areas of the country have poverty rates that remained largely unchanged between 2006 and 2016. In fact, the number of urban poor actually increased from 2.3 million to 3.8 million during this 10-year period due to steep population growth in cities. Those living in cities face high housing costs, high food prices, few job opportunities and poor access to transportation.
While the rural population has experienced greater progress with a reduction of poverty from 50% to 38.8% between 2006 and 2016, it shares the urban population’s problems of few job opportunities and poor access to transportation. Additionally, remote populations are often hundreds of miles away from big-city amenities and suffer from poor access to quality education and health resources.
Solutions to poverty in Kenya come both short-term and long-term. The Borgen Project conducted an interview with a member of Grace Church in Eden Prairie, MN to offer insights into effective short-term solutions. This church has around 5,000 members, some of whom go on regular mission trips to underserved countries as part of “go teams” made up of youth, pastors, teachers, nurses and other volunteers.
In 2018, Grace Church sent a “go team” to Nairobi, Kenya to spend 10 days working with partners at Huduma Church. Samantha, a member of this 2018 “go team”, who only wishes to only use her first name, answered questions about the general work Grace Church performed in Kenya.
Grace Church’s work in Kenya covers several areas of humanitarian aid. Samantha said the organization offered childcare services, medical assessments, counseling, job training programs and financial courses to Nairobi residents who attend Huduma Church. Delivering these resources in addition to daily worship services with music and games characterizes a typical 10-day Grace Church mission trip.
Volunteers spent the vast majority of each day working with members of the Huduma Church in the West Nairobi community. According to the interviewee, Grace Church’s efforts in the area provided much-needed relief to members of the Huduma Church. Applying similar practices across the nation would make significant strides towards alleviating poverty in Kenya.
Grace Church Services
It was very helpful for parents to have trusted childcare providers every day so they could spend their time taking advantage of the available resources. Many adults and teenagers also found counseling sessions to be rewarding and beneficial for their mental health. According to the interviewee, the most popular services were job training and finance classes. Several people taking these classes had entrepreneurial promise but lacked specific training and best practices.
Courses, like those Grace Church offered, then helped members of the Huduma Church gain useful experience and insight regarding employment and finances. Adults and children alike benefited from receiving medical assessments. First aid volunteers were able to give preliminary diagnoses of certain conditions and provided information for proper self-treatment as well as additional resources in the area for receiving medical assistance.
In order to assess which long-term solutions are the most successful, several studies and past programs have offered valuable information. First, expanding access to resources such as education, healthcare and housing for all citizens of a country regardless of income status is one of the most direct ways to improve living conditions. Additionally, access to micro-financing options helps to stimulate the market.
According to one comprehensive study evaluating poverty alleviation strategies in developing nations, establishing strong institutional resource systems is key to effective poverty reduction. Furthermore, following a human-based approach in these institutions by working in conjunction with people in poverty and empowering them to fully participate in their own socioeconomic improvements is vital for ensuring decreases in poverty are long-lasting.
Additionally, achieving steady economic growth has had an enormous impact on Kenyan poverty rates. Thanks to innovations in financial technology and telecommunications, Kenya experienced average annual growth rates of about 5.3% between 2006 and 2016. This prolonged period of robust growth greatly reduced the number of impoverished citizens. In fact, more than 4.5 million people escaped poverty during this decade. This number has reduced again due to COVID-19 in the last two years.
Finally, reducing inequality is crucial to closing the poverty gap. Even if Kenya continues to deliver high GDP growth rates over the next decade, the predicted poverty rate will still top 20% by 2030. Thus, the most important reforms shouldn’t focus so much on raising the growth rate even more but rather on ensuring a more equal distribution of economic growth so all portions of the population can benefit.
The Importance of Both Long and Short-Term Solutions
Long-term programs offer the most sustainable solutions for poverty in Kenya. However, this is not to say that short-term solutions are not useful. Programs providing short-term solutions are essential to alleviating poverty as the long-term solutions mentioned above can often take a long time to have noticeable effects.
Reforming national systems typically requires several simultaneous multi-year projects. In the time being, people living in Kenya and other developing nations still need immediate assistance. Mission trip operations offering resources like Grace Church’s “go teams” play a very important role in delivering this immediate assistance. Well-managed programs can have tremendous effects on the living situations of the populations served.
The best solution to the issue of poverty in Kenya is a combination of multiple solutions. Short-term programs offer immediate assistance in several areas of humanitarian aid. Long-term policy changes like investing in resources, creating sustainable growth and distributing that growth equally are the most effective solutions to bring long-lasting results.
– Calvin Melloh